Pauli Murray, Betty Massenburg, or something else? Help Durham name its new school.

·3 min read

A new elementary school opening in Durham’s Hope Valley Farms area could be named after social justice icon Pauli Murray or the district’s first Black woman principal.

Or a creek.

After taking suggestions from the public, Durham Public Schools narrowed its options for Elementary School F, which will open in August 2023 at South Roxboro Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway.

Now, the school board is asking Durhamites to choose from among Pauli Murray Elementary School, Betty Massenburg Elementary School, and Third Fork Elementary School.

Several board members were leaning toward Murray at the start of Thursday night’s meeting.

“I am feeling really called to Pauli Murray Elementary, and I think there is a reason that our community keeps sharing that [name] with us,” board member Natalie Beyer said. “And I appreciate not only her role as a civil rights leader, but as an LGBTQ pioneer.”

But then a descendant of Massenburg spoke.

“Betty Doretha Massenburg is right for a Durham public school educational building, “ said Phyllis Massenburg. “She was the first female African American school principal in Durham Public Schools, the highest position that she would be able to achieve at that time.”

Massenburg was the first African-American woman to serve as principal for the Durham City School System in 1975 at Holloway Street Elementary School.

She taught at Crest Street and Fayetteville Street elementary schools and was a teacher, dean of girls and assistant principal at Rogers Herr Middle School. She graduated from Fayetteville State University and earned a master’s of education degree from N.C. Central University.

According to DPS, Durham County’s population has grown 27% since 2010, requiring more schools in fast-growing parts of the county.

But even with growth, there are still not enough opportunities to honor all the “amazing” staff the district has had, Beyer said, explaining she is hesitant to begin naming sites after DPS staff members because there have been so many.

Board member Frederick Ravin, however, said he supported naming the school for Massenburg.

“Representation matters,” he said, “and that’s why it is so important when you are thinking about naming a school that you are thinking about the lives of the children you are impacting when they are walking through those doors.”

He then drew similarities between the schools he and Massenburg experienced growing up in Durham, which included Fayetteville Street School and NCCU.

“After tonight it’s between Murray Elementary — I see value in that as well — and the Betty Massenburg Elementary School, “ Ravin said. “It’s just as of right now, I resonate more with the life of Ms. Massenburg.”

Pauli Murray house, documentary

The N&O recently reported on the life and national legacy of Murray, an attorney, priest and poet who made a significant impact in the civil rights, women’s and LGBTQ movements.

The new documentary “My Name is Pauli Murray” tells the story of the pioneering activist, who grew up in Durham.

Murray’s childhood home on Carroll Street houses the Pauli Murray Center and was named a National Treasure in 2015 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2016, the National Park Service designated it as a National Historic Landmark. The center will open to the public for the first time next year.

Due to the future school’s location near a creek, the name Third Fork Elementary School is also being considered.

The board did not set a date for choosing a name. Residents can tell the district what they think at tinyurl.com/y4662y34

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